Sunday, October 30, 2011

Are We Too Gospel Focused?

What an odd question?! How could we be too focused on the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ? If anything it seems clear that we are not focused enough on the Gospel!

Here is what I am thinking. Some parts of the church seemed focused on using the Gospel, or at least what they misunderstand to be the Gospel, as a slogan to add members to "their church". Other parts of the church seem to view the Gospel as a mandate for social change, either "social justice" which is defined as liberal political activism or "restoring Judeo-Christian values" which is defined as conservative political activism. Still other parts of the church see the Gospel as a doctrine to be studied and parsed over and over again. I think all of these views of the Gospel are missing the boat.

When we think about the Gospel, there are two questions we need to ask. What does the Gospel tell us and how does the Gospel compel us?

One can spend a lifetime reading about theology, digging deep into the ordo salutis, studying the great thinkers and preachers and writers of the church and miss the significance of the Gospel. It is spiritually unhealthy to spend all of our time talking about, thinking about and reading about the Gospel while not actually living as the Gospel commands us. We end up with spiritual bodies that have giant brains and bodies withered away from atrophy. While the Bible speaks clearly about predestination and election, justification by faith alone, the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, etc., it also is quite clear about what these truths compel a believer to do. Not "do" as in "do this to be right with God" nor "do this as a trudging ritual you feel obligated to do in remembrance of me" but "do this out of love because of the change that has been made in you". "Do" as is caring for the poor, "do" as in every Christian being called to proclaim the Gospel, "do" as in teaching and training our children, "do" as in visiting the widow and the orphan. That "do" has been largely missing in the church since the Gospel was reclaimed during the Reformation and still is today. Our call to "go" and "do" has been reduced to "stay, pray and pay".

My wife and I spent six hours driving yesterday and during that time we listened to some talks from the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. The talks dealt with the topic of justification and were deep and rich, saturated with Scripture. Yet something was missing. These were not evangelistic talks aimed at unbelievers. These were talks targeted at mature believers but the talks were all about "what and how" and virtually nothing about "what now?". The speakers lamented that we don't talk about the Gospel enough but I wondered what the people in "Gospel centered churches" understood the necessary consequences of the Gospel to be? Coming to church? Being a "member"? Getting baptized? Obeying the church authorities and contributing to the operation of the church? These talks and books and sermons that are "Gospel focused" seem to me to be like reading half of one of Paul's epistles, the parts where he speaks of the Gospel proper, while ignoring his admonitions and examples of how the church is to live as a family and to live as witnesses to the world. So when I ask, "Are we too Gospel focused?", this is what I mean...

We can get so caught up in studying the Gospel that we forget to live out the Gospel.

As we approach the 494th anniversary of Luther famously nailing the 95 these to that church door in Wittenberg it is high time for the church to start giving the Gospel its due. It is far more than a slogan to make "converts" to add names to membership rolls. It is in no way a political platform to be claimed by one party or the other. It is not an esoteric academic concept to be studied over and over. It is the declaration of what God has done for His elect that leads to what God calls His elect to do: be ambassadors of Christ, serve others with the towel and basin, love our neighbors as ourselves in deed and not just in theory, take the Gospel to the lost, be salt and light in the world. Believe me, I cringe when I hear a lot of people talking about "the Gospel" with only a vague, fuzzy comprehension of what the Bible reveals it to be but I also cringe when I see people so caught up in their studies that they fail to see the need to love their neighbor who lives across the street. We need to understand the Gospel far better in the church but that understanding must lead to going and doing. The Gospel compels us to action and if your understanding of the Gospel doesn't capture that, you don't really understand the Gospel at all.


Alan Knox said...


You've made a great point: "We can get so caught up in studying the Gospel that we forget to live out the Gospel."

Would you say that failure to live out the gospel is an indication that we're not really caught up in (or not understanding) the gospel?


Beth said...

What a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's something I have been thinking about for a while now but haven't taken the time to write out to ponder further.
Alan,as for your question to Arthur...I think the answer is yes. So much emphasis seems to be placed on the academics of understanding the gospel that the actual living out has been ignored and as I can tell from studying it seems to me that Jesus lived it out and in living it "preached" it. So then, aren't we called to do the same? And perhaps, maybe?, in living it out we gain the understanding of it in ways we never possibly could by just merely talking about it.

Arthur Sido said...

Hi Beth, thanks for your comment. I think a lot of people think things along these lines but are hesitant to say anything.

Alan, that is exactly what I wou;d say. The Gospel is not less than justification by faith alone in Christ alone but it certainly is not limited to just that.